Irony and Death in The Pardoner’s Tale. Nicole Kurtz English IV, English IV Honors. General Information. Pardoners sold pardons—official documents from Rome that pardoned a person’s sins. The Pardoner in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is dishonest.
Nicole KurtzEnglish IV, English IV Honors
Pardoners sold pardons—official documents from Rome that pardoned a person’s sins.
The Pardoner in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is dishonest.
The Pardoner often preaches about how money is the root of all evil.
The Pardoner stands in the pulpit and preaches very rapidly about the sin of avarice so as to intimidate the members into donating money.
In his prologue, the Pardoner frankly confesses that he is a fraud motivated by greed and avarice and that he is guilty of all seven sins.
The Pardoner and the Host get into a verbal argument, and he was unable to pardon or forgive the Host. More irony.
The Pardoner's Prologue is, like those of the Wife of Bath and Canon's Yeoman, an "apologia" or "literary confession," in which a character explains his or her way of life (Benson, 2000).
The Pardoner's Prologue is less lengthy than the Wife of Bath's but serves to provide a powerfully ironic frame to the sermon that forms the body of his Tale. The Prologue serves to make us aware of the difference that can exist between a Tale and its Teller (Anthony, n.d.).
There was widespread dissatisfaction with pardoners (as also with money-loving Friars) in Chaucer's time, and both were popular subjects of satire and joking.
This can be found especially in parts of Piers Plowman, which Chaucer may have known. There was a fully developed satire of the avarice and corruption manifested by so many people associated with the Church, an awareness of the failure of many to practice the teachings of Christ.
In Chaucer's age that gave birth to the challenge expressed by Wyclif and the Lollards, which in turn later found full expression in Luther's protest and the Reformation (Anthony, n.d.).
The main interest of the Pardoner's Prologue and Tale, taken as a whole, is the complexity of the irony.
Thus, his text contains a double irony: His love for money is the root of his evil, yet his sales depend upon the purchaser's love of money.
The Pardoner has composed this wonderfully powerful Tale (sermon) in such a way as to move his hearers to the utmost. Only his motivation in doing this is not love (a desire to save them from their sins) but vice (a desire to make them anxious so that they give him much money) (Anthony, n.d.).
The strongest irony comes in lines (Riverside) 427-31 when he explains that avarice (greed) is his own vice and at the same time (line 425 'therefore') the vice he preaches against with such powerful effect that he brings people to repent of their avarice sincerely (but not himself, he is glad to note).
His only concern is that, realizing their sinfulness, they give him money to benefit from his pardons. All the money he gets he seems to regard as his own and he explains that he does not intend to be like Christ's apostles who worked hard with their hands; he does not care if he takes from very poor people, so that their children starve, so long as he can enjoy himself.
He ends by stressing the irony: he himself is 'a full vicious man; yet he can tell a moral tale (Anthony, n.d.).
The Pardoner’s Tale is a reminder that death is inevitable. Death is personified as a thief who pierces the heart of his victims. This was an iconographic image of death throughout the middle ages and later.
(image taken from www.vidimus.org/.../issue_40_2010-03.html )
The tale refers to death as the person responsible for slaughtering one thousand by his hand during the plague (line 670).
The three men from the bar are determined to challenge death because he has taken away their friends. In their humorous and selfish endeavor to get revenge with death, they actually do death's job for him by killing each other over a pot of gold (David and Wilson, 1999).
Anthony, B. (n.d.). The pardoner’s prologue and tale. Retrieved from http://hompi.sogang.ac.kr/anthony/Chaucer/Pardoner.htm on October 18, 2010.
Benson, L.D. (2000). The pardoner’s prologue and tale. Retrieved from http://www.courses.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/canttales/pardt.
David, C. and C. Wilson. (1999). Chaucer and death in the middle ages. Retrieved on http://www.auburn.edu/chaucer/Pardoner.htmon October 18, 2010.
Delahoyed, Michael (n.d). The pardoner’s tale. Washington State. Retrieved from http://www.wsu.edu/~delahoyd/chaucer/ParT.html.
Jokinen, A. (1996-2010). The pardoner’s tale. Retrieved from http://www.luminarium.org/medlit/pardoner.htm on October 18, 2010.